How to Write an Obituary

When a loved one passes away, you may feel like just crawling into bed and not coming out for years. However, there are many arrangements that need to be taken care of a person dies, and one of those is writing an obituary.

You may decide you do not feel that it is necessary to place an obituary in your local paper, and that is absolutely fine. It is your personal choice. The purpose of publishing an obituary is to let everyone in the community know that the person has passed away. It also serves to commemorate the life of the deceased, and can be a tribute to what the person has done in the community.

The best time to place an obituary is either soon after the person passes away, or a couple of days before any services are held. Services often occur within a week of the death anyway, but it is best to try to place the obituary before services are held. If you do not get around to placing the obituary before the service, it is still fine to publish one afterwards. To reach the most readers, the best day of the week to publish an obituary is usually Sunday.

Most newspapers charge for obituaries. You will need to call your local newspaper to find out the exact prices, but do be aware that the cost is usually based on length, which is generally calculated based on a per line charge, with an additional charge to include a photo.

Because the price that you will pay is based on length, it is a good idea to decide before submitting the obituary what information you would like to include. If you are the one writing the obituary, you may want to consult with other family members to see if there is anything that they would really like to see included in the obituary. An obituary can be very simple, just a few lines stating that the person has passed away with some service information, or it can be a long obituary telling the life story of the deceased.

The following is a list of things that can be included in the obituary, and tips on how to state them properly. Keep in mind that this is a very comprehensive list. By no means does an obituary need to include all of these things, although some do. You should go through the list first and decide which of these things are important to you to include. Next it is a really good idea to go through the list and prioritize. Decide what things you will be able to take out if you have to, before you even write it, so that it is easier for you to cut sections out later if necessary. Even if you know the per line charge that your newspaper charges, you may be shocked at how many lines your obituary takes up, finding that the cost of the obituary far exceeds your budget for it, in which case you will need to cut the obituary down.


1.Date of death

This is the one part of an obituary that is absolutely necessary. You really cannot submit an obituary without stating that the person has passed away. You may also want to include where, how, and the age the person was at the time of death.

2.Life Story

There are many aspects of a person’s life story that you may want to include. Decide what you feel is most important and then try to put these things in chronological order.

-When and where the person was born

-Things about his/her childhood

-Education history (schools attended, degrees obtained, etc.)

-Any military service (branches, years, tours of duty, awards, etc.- Please make sure that you do not use abbreviations in this section.)

-Who they married and when

-Where they lived and how long they lived in each place

-How many children they had

-Employment history

-Organizations they volunteered with or clubs they were a member of (Do not use abbreviations in this section. For instance, if he was a member of the NRA, you would need to say “National Rifle Association.” )


You probably will find that you really want to convey what type of person your loved one was. To do this, you could include any of the following:

-Personality Traits (easy going, hospitable, compassionate, etc.)

-Things they were interested in or activities they enjoyed

-Anecdotes (fun little stories that show something about the person)

-What they will be most remembered/missed for

4.The Family
You may want to include a list of family members. This can be done by simply saying, “He had a large family, includingâÂ?¦” and then listing everyone. You can also separate it into “survived by” and “preceded in death by”

-How to write the survivorship:

As a family, decide who you will include in this list. It could be just children and grandchildren, or it could be extended to include nieces, nephews, cousins, etc.

If you put names in parentheses, you must include the relation. For instance, not just “John (Sarah) Smith.” You should say “John (wife Sarah) Smith,” instead. If you are including nicknames, they do not go in parentheses; they get surrounded by quotation marks: Jonathan “Johnny” Smith.

You may want to include where each of these family members is from. This is not necessary, but if you do decide to include it, make sure you make it very clear.

Rather than putting it all in paragraph form, it may be easier to make a bulleted list and allow the newspaper writer to place it in paragraph form with proper punctuation. Punctuating these long lists can get tricky.


If the death of your loved one was a long, drawn out process, there may be several people/organizations who provided help and support through this process. You could include a small paragraph thanking these people. If you do decide to do this, be careful that you do not hurt feelings by including a long list of people and accidentally leaving out a friend or neighbor who probably should have been included. You may want to thank:

-Any doctors or nurses who were especially helpful

-Hospice organizations who provided assistance

-Neighbors or friends who were of great support

6.Service Information

Depending on your personal and/or religious preferences, you may be having a number of different services. If they are private, you may leave them out of the obituary, or simply mention that services are private. Services may include:

-Visitation and viewing


-Memorial service


-Mass (which is always stated as “Mass will be celebrated at (time)” )

-Graveside service

-Cremated remains will be scattered�..


You will want to let people know where they can send their condolences/flowers. Do not give a residential address, as newspapers cannot publish this information (It is to protect your privacy.) It may be a good idea just to give the mortuary phone number.

If you do not want to receive flowers, you may want to include somewhere that people can send donations in lieu of flowers. This can be a hospice that assisted the family, or an organization such as the American Cancer Society, or a church that the deceased was a member of, or any charity of your choice.

8.Poems, Bible Verses, Song Lyrics, Etc.

These can be placed anywhere throughout the obituary. Including a poem or Bible verse is not necessary, and is by no means in every obituary, but some people feel it adds a personal touch. If you do include a poem or Bible verse, remember that it is necessary to include who wrote the poem. Newspapers are held accountable under copyright laws, and so they must publish the author. If the author is not identifiable, state “author unknown.”


You may include a photo in the obituary. Some people chose to include a recent photo, while others prefer a younger photo. The newspaper may allow you to include more than one photo, but you will be charged for each photo

Make sure that the face in the photo is a decent size. While photos can be enlarged, the more it is enlarged the blurrier it gets, so try to make sure it is big and clear to begin with.

Try to make a copy of the photo before you submit it to the newspaper. This can be done at Kinko’s or at any photo-processing center for a nominal fee. While the newspaper usually returns your photo, you do not want to take a chance that they will lose your only copy.


It is always good to call your local newspaper to find out their deadlines, but it is best to try to submit the obituary early, a few days or at least a few hours before the deadline, so that you have time to make corrections or adjustments if necessary.

When submitting an obituary, make sure you include all the information they will need. Include multiple ways that the newspaper can contact you with questions and for payment. They may also need proof of death. If you have the death certificate, include a photocopy. If not, include the name and phone number of the funeral director that the newspaper can contact.

Always ask for a proof. If you a grieving the loss of your loved one, it is very possible that you may miss something the first time. It is also possible that the newspaper may make a mistake, which you will want to catch before it is published.

After the obituary is published, make sure that you pick up a copy and check for errors. The newspaper may be able to correct them and re-run the obituary the next day. You may want to pick up multiple copies for friends and family members to save. If you decide to save a copy for memories, you may want to have it laminated, as newsprint ages quickly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

+ 7 = eight